Dubai: A 49-year-old chronic smoker of 30 years, whose daily intake of cigarettes went up to 20 at one point, has sought to share his story of quitting smoking in the hope that more people make a life-changing decision like him sooner than later.
Ahead of World No Tobacco Day on May 31, Indian expat Tony Thomas Jacob, father of two children, who lives with his wife and two children in Sharjah, said his story of transformation was compelling enough to inspire every smoker to kick the habit.
“I have been smoking for 30 years now. I started off during my college days in Mumbai, India. Then it seemed like the done thing, as it was fun, but it turned into an insidious habit.”
He said in the beginning, smoking was an occasional affair. “One or two cigarettes a day. However, as the habit got well entrenched, the frequency and the urge to smoke went up. When I moved to the UAE 27 years ago, I was in my early twenties. I used to smoke around five to six cigarettes a day. Gradually, the number went up to 14-15 cigarettes a day and eventually, I was smoking a pack of 20 cigarettes daily.”
However, in April 2022, everything changed. Jacob had a health scare and was forced to review his lifestyle. “Since the last two months, I have not smoked a single cigarette and the joy of being able to quit smoking is so empowering and exhilarating that I find it difficult to quantify.”
The turning point
The jolt that Jacob received two months ago started with a fever. “That was just a start and I took paracetamols. However, as days progressed, the fever persisted despite the medication. Slowly, it turned very high, so much so that I was severely fatigued, had terrible body pain and was unable to stand up on my feet. That is when I consulted a doctor at Aster Clinic, Sharjah. He ordered an X-ray and blood tests. The results showed some issues with my lungs. My blood count was low. In a span of a few days, I lost about 10kg weight and very quickly, my health spiralled out of control. I had trouble breathing and was admitted to the Aster Hospital, Qusais, under the care of Dr Mohammad Shafeeq, specialist pulmonologist.”
Further diagnostic tests revealed accumulation of water in Jacob’s left lung along with other complications. For the next 32 days that he was admitted in hospital, Jacob could not go out for a smoke. The hospital stay from April 14 to May 21 gave me time alone to reflect and introspect.
“My wife, who had a full-time job, was also managing running of the home and care of our children. The retrospection helped my resolve not to get back to smoking and that is how I decided to quit completely.”
Not easy, it’s a mind game
It was not easy. In fact, Jacob says it was a painful experience. “However, I am a person who cannot wean off slowly. The decision had to be sudden. Being alone on that hospital bed with a severe lung infection and host of other health complications, smoke cessation was sudden and drastic for me.”
Though it has been about two months since he quit smoking, Jacob admits he does get the urge sometimes. “It is a mind game. Once you train your mind, then a voice of caution within stops you. I am able to distract myself to overcome the urge.”
After quitting smoking, Jacob decided to become a teetotaler too. “The health benefits have begun showing. My taste buds have become more sensitised, I enjoy food better, have more time to spend with my children and above all, my lungs are healthier. I think it is important to have a strong sense of purpose to quit smoking. It is difficult to quit suddenly. In my case, all my previous attempts to quit had failed. However, when my health deteriorated, it was a do or die moment for me. People need to look for some strong purpose to help fight and overcome the urge to smoke.”
Calling on all smokers to wake up to the high lung cancer risk posed by smoking, Dr Shafeeq said, “Cigarette smoke releases over 5,000 chemicals and many of these are harmful and can cause cancer. These harmful chemicals enter our lungs, spread through the entire body and can damage the DNA in our body cells. The chemicals from cigarettes make it harder for the cells to repair any DNA damage. They also damage parts of the DNA that protect us from cancer. It is the build-up of DNA damage in the same cell over time that leads to cancer."
Dr Shafeeq added that both shisha and cigarette smoking inflict prolonged damage.
“Our bodies are designed to deal with a bit of damage, but they often can’t cope with the amount of harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke. Both the amounts you smoke and the length of time you have been smoking for, affect your cancer risk. The more cigarettes you smoke a day, the higher your risk of cancer, the number of years you spend smoking affects your cancer risk most strongly.”